The choice of place also influences the longevity of petroglyphs

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Good places to look for rock art are the sites of ancient villages and ruins such as Mesa Verde, water sources, and animal trails.

Rock artists chose particular locations for some images. Abstract images could include dots, spirals, diamonds, meandering lines, and sunbursts. Spirals could represent water and were sometimes carved on rocks where rain collects. At times, they drew recognizable objects such as weapons, people, and animals. Abstract shapes were also part of their arsenal and could include strange creatures from their visions or anthropomorphs, creatures that have resemble human figures but have exaggerated body features.

Mese Verde Park

On some rock surfaces there are superimposed paintings or engravings. This form of, what we would now call, graffiti is primarily psychological in nature: one drawing leads to another. The other has to do with depictions becoming holier and more invested with power with each added picture as is the case at Cueva Pintada in Baja California Sur, where multiple layers of giant, superimposed human and animal figures interact.(1)

It is supposed that rock art created was meant to be used repeatedly and durability may have factored in the decision to use rock as it was so plentiful and readily available. In most arid regions rock dominates the landscape.

Not much rock art was put in the mountains although the rocks were plentiful. It is suggested that arable lands were far removed from the mountains and the right kind of rock was not present. Wind-deposited sandstone (aeolian) is the preferred rock medium in which to cut petroglyphs rather than the igneous and metamorphic rocks found in the mountains.

Sandstone abound in the Great Basin region where the Fremont and Anasazi lived in the high desert canyon. Prehistoric rock art is found “along the base of cliffs, on large detached boulders, in large overhung alcoves and beneath protruding ledges … on near-vertical surfaces” (1). Pictograph images tended to be in more protected areas such as caves and under overhanging ledges.

Although the region has an incredible amount of ideal sites for petroglyph-making and human activity abounded in some areas, it seems the ancient ones sought specific locations to create their images. Rock art is often found near flowing water, near game trails or migratory routes, farming camps, and near canyon convergences. It has been noted that some art sites correlate with cultural activities but all the evidence is speculative.

1) World Rock Art – Jean Clotte

Photo curtesy of Rocky Mountain Magazine